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Working the bit & foaming
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Horse Adventurer
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 Posted: Tue Jun 28th, 2011 02:16 pm
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Dr. Deb, what is your opinion about horses "working the mouth" with the bit and foaming at the mouth, keeping the mouth moist from these actions.

 

Thank you :)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Jun 28th, 2011 06:18 pm
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Dear Adventurer: The horse's mouth is moist at all times, just like yours is, unless you have diabetes or kidney failure. The horse's mouth is lined with mucus membrane, which contains globe cells which secrete mucus; and his mouth is provided with four salivary ducts, which squirt spit into his mouth continually. So his mouth is moist all the time.

Neither does a horse's mouth dry out because he carries a bit in it. Your dog's mouth does not dry out if he picks up a stick and carries it. What I am saying is that all worry about whether a horse's mouth is "moist" is a lot of hooey, mostly created by people who sell various types of bits. A horse's mouth WILL dry out, though, just like yours will, if he's "working scared."

The competitive dressage obsession with having the horse "foam" at the mouth is beyond hooey into silliness or even cruelty. No animal's saliva forms foam unless it is "whipped". Saliva, like milk, does contain protein such that when something agitates the saliva, so as to mix the saliva with air, it will thicken like whipping cream. The last thing you want, however, is for your horse's tongue to be working the bit so much or so fast that he whips up his saliva into a foam.

Indeed anything more than a very minimum amount of foam is a sure indication of either one of two undesirable things:

(a) That the horse's mouth is excessively active, which usually means that the animal is in some manner uncomfortable with the bit and is working his tongue and/or jaws in order to try to spit the bit out. Keys, players, or rollers that are incorporated into various bit designs give the horse something to do with his tongue, and they are not a bad thing in and of themselves; however, once the horse achieves emotional acceptance or "closure" with carrying a bit -- which occurs when he comes to understand that the bit is a tool of communication which will not at any time be used to hurt him -- his mouth will become completely quiet. The idea is, of course, to get the horse to "grasp" the bit, holding it steadily and lightly upon his tongue and between his closed lips; this is what is known as 'appuyer' in French, which means 'the horse offering a proper feel'.

(b) That the dressage competitor has put a chip of Ivory soap, or a syringe-full of coarse sand, into the horse's mouth in order to force foaming. This is common practice at competitions, and fulfills the dressage obsession with the horse producing a stiff, whipping-cream type foam in enough abundance that it coats the animal's lips, runs down his chin, and little flecks of it fly off and stick to his chest and neck. What a pretty sight -- it makes me laugh every time.

So you don't worry about whether your horse's mouth is moist, and especially you don't worry about whether he foams. You don't do anything to get the horse to foam. If your horse is unable to be quiet with the bit -- you hear him all the time clanking it, for example, or he's got a bit with players or a roller and he never stops working it -- then you can write back in here with that sort of question and we'll go over the reasons why a horse might have a noisy or unquiet mouth and the possible solutions for that. But my advice to you would be to stay as far as possible away from competitive dressage and its many wrongheaded ideas. -- Dr. Deb

 

Dorinda
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 Posted: Wed Jun 29th, 2011 01:05 am
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Hi Dr Deb

 

I didn't know this. Thanks for the great insight and now I know that if Maggie trys to work the bit and gets busy then I need to find out what I am doing wrong.

She is pretty comforatble at the moment with the bit and doesn't chomp on it.

Cheers

Dorinda

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 Posted: Wed Jun 29th, 2011 01:13 am
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I had also heard that the opoinion is that the horse is relaxing while chomping all the time  It seems to me that all that extra work with the Massater Muscle would lead to a pretty tight TMJ!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Jun 29th, 2011 06:51 am
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Adventurer, we need to distinguish here between chewing, as the horse would exert force to chew his food, vs. "working the mouth", which is a loose action of the jaws combined with activity from the tongue. When a horse works his mouth softly, it relieves rather than increases pressure within the temporo-mandibular joint (the "TMJ" or jaw joint). When a horse works his mouth too much, it is still mostly activity of the tongue. If the horse is working scared, he will sometimes clamp the jaws, which does involve forceful contraction of the masseter and pterygoid musculature, and that would increase pressure within the TMJ. Tooth-grinding is an action sometimes performed by horses who do not understand / have not emotionally accepted the bit. -- Dr. Deb

Cheko
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 Posted: Tue Jul 5th, 2011 10:11 pm
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Hi Dr Deb

So is softly chewing the bit a good thing? I've just started bringing my horse back into work after injury and I've noticed after our session she has a thin lipstick of saliva over her lips. Its not foamy, and nearly transperant.

I've been concentrating on what I've learnt through your articles and your forum and I must admit, this is the first time that I've felt the bit on her tongue in her mouth! It was a great feeling when I found it. She feels like she's gentlly moving the bit around with her tongue. Its not a dramatic action, and its not constant. Is this an indication that she's unhappy with the bit? Or is this the soft chewing action? Is the saliva on her lips the result of this?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Jul 6th, 2011 07:08 am
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Cheko, yes and yes. No problem as you describe this whatsoever. Yes, what you are describing is the soft chewing action, and that's just fine. -- Dr. Deb

sebocat
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 Posted: Fri Jul 15th, 2011 08:04 am
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So what if the horse is active in his mouth and does foam?  Is that necessarily an indication of a problem?

Sebocat, please read my replies above more carefully. The answer to your query has already been given. -- Dr. Deb

Last edited on Fri Jul 15th, 2011 04:14 pm by DrDeb


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